We hate cold weather. Yet we enjoy spending New Year’s Eve in snowy European capitals. The ambience is so festive and party-like there. Athens, on the other hand, although graced with incredibly mild winters, is not famous for its New Year’s Eve outdoor celebrations. That said, there are other Greek cities which know how to party during the holidays. Take Ioannina, for instance. In our humble opinion, everyone should visit Ioannina Greece on New Year’s Eve at least once. Read on to find out why.
Before we go on to speak about Ioannina, we need to get one thing straight. To be fair, Athens does schedule a couple of events on the night of December 31st these past few years. We do appreciate, embrace and support those baby steps. But, if we want to be honest, there are a million reasons why one should plan a trip to Athens. Celebrating New Year’s Eve is not one of them. At least not yet.
So, for various reasons we don’t even remember any more, we hadn’t made any plans to travel abroad for New Year’s back in December 2018. That said, we were reluctant to spend the holidays in Athens as we had done so the previous year. We had a great time, don’t get us wrong. It’s just that the travel bug wouldn’t let us stay put for two years in a row. Therefore, we decided to travel within Greece for the holidays. It had to be a city break rather than a nature escape so as to feel festive urban vibes on New Year’s Eve and it also had to be some place pretty. Ioannina, the largest city in the stunning Epirus region, ticked both of these boxes. And off we went.
We planned a four-day trip to Ioannina. Having read that New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city are quite special, although we couldn’t actually believe it to be true, we did schedule our sightseeing in a way that it would leave the entire December 31st free for us to take in the beauty of Ioannina Old Town and, if possible, celebrate New Year’s Eve like locals do.
Why visit Ioannina Greece on New Year’s Eve
First of all, Ioannina city looks absolutely gorgeous during the holidays. The Old Town in Ioannina is among the most charming ones in Greece anyway so you can imagine how incredible the streets look with all their decorations. Especially in the evening when Christmas lights make the city look and feel absolutely festive.
Secondly and, perhaps, most importantly, Ioannina is a city that knows how to party on New Year’s Eve. Not just for a couple of hours around midnight, no. Ioannina city parties all day long. Yes, that’s right. All. Day. Long. We couldn’t believe our eyes, ears and noses when we left our hotel room on that cold yet beautiful December 31st morning.
Our unforgettable New Year’s Eve in Ioannina
It was about 11am when we started walking around the quaint streets of the Old Town. We had a quick breakfast and then grabbed our cups of hot chocolate as we headed towards the maze of pedestrianised streets that comprise the heart of Ioannina city. We could hear voices and music in the distance that got louder the more we approached. It was almost noon when we reached Kalari Street, one of the city’s most popular hubs. That’s where we stood still, unable to believe what was going on before our eyes. The entire city was already out in the streets partying as if it were already midnight. We had to double check our cellphones so as to make sure that we hadn’t fallen in some sort of time warp. Yes, it was indeed noon. Actually, morning by Greek standards.
All bars, restaurants and cafés had become one and they all served skewers grilled on makeshift barbecues at the side of the road. To be more precise, the entire city was covered in thick smoke from all the barbecues. There were bands playing traditional music in the streets and people were already dancing. We were completely carried away by this remarkably festive atmosphere. We kept walking around the filled with people streets and we couldn’t help but smile. Soon, we joined in the celebrations. We didn’t dance or sing but we followed in the locals’ footsteps on how to make the most of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Ioannina.
It seems that the way to go in Ioannina on this day is to move from one bar or restaurant to the next and enjoy being served tsipouro with small meze dishes without even having to order. Traditional bands play live music everywhere while locals and visitors alike are having the time of their lives. This goes on for many hours and when the sun is ready to set, or a littlewhile before that, the party moves inside the Old Town’s bars. Now traditional music is not the only kind of music you hear. We chose a bar which played 80s music and we had a fantastic time. By 18:00 we had lost count of how many drinks we’d had and the night was still young. Well, actually, the night was yet to come.
For about two hours, roughly between 20:30 and 22:30, it seemed that the city went quiet all of a sudden. This was because locals went back home to have a quick rest before round 2 of the celebrations. The weather can get very cold in Ioannina so it is customary to welcome the New Year inside bars and restaurants. That’s pretty much what happens everywhere in Greece, Athens included. However, if you’ve spent the entire day partying outside then it’s only natural to stay indoors at midnight. Most restaurants feature live music at dinnertime on New Year’s Eve. After midnight, the party can go on until the next morning in all of these places.
We had booked a table at one of the city’s most quaint restaurants at the historical Stoa Louli. We had dinner and then welcomed the New Year at midnight. However, our all-day partying (and drinking) proved too much for us. So, we had to call it an early night. But even from our hotel room we could feel the city of Ioannina party until late. We fell asleep with the irresistible sounds of laughter and music in our ears as the enchanting city of Ioannina made us vow that we would be back again soon.